Staffing issues and supply chain constraints added to the difficulties of running a small independent commercial repair shop in 2021. A report released by the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council, working with repair management software provider Fullbay, drew its conclusions from data sampled from 500 repair shops and 900 survey responses.
The second annual State of Heavy-Duty Repair report was released at TMC’s annual meeting in Orlando, Florida.
The report illustrates, for example, the impact COVID-19 had on the repair industry, with a significant number of businesses closing during the height of the pandemic. Respondents to the survey reported an overall 23% decline in revenue in 2020.
“These shops are the lifeblood of fleets,” said Fullbay Executive Chairman Jacob Findlay. “The majority of trucks are repaired and maintained by ‘mom and pop’ shops that need to stay in business so that fleets can keep their trucks running.”
As the number of active repair shops was declining, the number of trucks on the road delivering freight was increasing. Most of the fleets in this country are 10 trucks or fewer, so they rely heavily on outside repair shops rather than dealers or their own maintenance facilities.
“Truck fleets need these small shops to be profitable and well run so they can hire technicians and effectively maintain the equipment,” Findlay said. “There are so few people going into diesel technician programs today, we have to make the best use of the diesel technicians that we have to keep the trucks running.”
The report contains a full analysis of other trends in the commercial vehicle repair industry, including demographics, revenue, current parts shortages and more.
Among the key findings of this year’s report:
- 82% of repair shops faced some disruptions due to supply-chain-induced parts shortages, including 14% of shops that experienced severe disruptions.
- 64% of shops found it either “much” or “slightly” more difficult to hire technicians, even while 73% of them increased hourly wages.
- 83% of shops had annual revenue of less than $2 million in revenue, and 19% experienced revenue growth during 2021.
Prioritizing Preventive Maintenance
The scarcity of parts, combined with the difficulty of recruiting and retaining skilled technicians, underscores the need to keep trucks in the best condition possible. That means doing more thorough mechanical inspections more often, Findlay said. While such inspections could become much-needed revenue streams for those small garages, the survey found that 22% of shops charge nothing for a typical DOT inspection.
“We see that as a kind of a proxy for ‘it doesn't matter that much, we’re just trying to check the box,’” he said. “But the reality is those inspections should be the lifeblood of the shops. Not only do they help fleets prevent unscheduled downtime, but they also help with the shops’ revenue streams.”
About a third of the surveyed shops charged fees between $100 and $250 for DOT inspections. Another 16% charged $251 to $500.
Findlay said fleets should not be fretting about reasonable charges for inspections and advice when they consider the cost of a breakdown can be “orders of magnitude” higher. “Fleets should want to be charged for these DOT inspections as long as there is a fair exchange of value.”
Spreading the RP Word
The commercial repair industry, like the trucking industry, consists of thousands of small businesses spread far and wide across the country. The report indicated 52% of shops in the Fullbay network operate just one location, while 27% of the business operate 2-5 locations. Only 7% operate 10 shops or more.
Findlay said for fleets this can mean a lack of consistency and standards. They have no industry trade association, and they generally aren’t thinking at a macro level, he said. “That’s why we are evangelizing TMC to these shops.”
TMC Executive Director Robert Braswell said he is anxious to make TMC’s Recommended Practices manuals available to Fullbay’s 997 partner shops.
Braswell also pointed to the benefits of bringing certain TMC programs to technician training schools to help develop apprenticeship programs structured around commercial fleet environment and to get them onside with a set of standardized practices.
“This is an opportunity for TMC to partner with a full cadre of connected repair shops, and we hope to do that in the near future,” Braswell said.
“This year’s report provides repair shops with essential insights and best practices to run their business,” said Fullbay CEO Patrick McKittrick. “The report offers commercial repair data you can’t find anywhere else, with learnings on shop management, labor challenges and current industry parts shortages. It’s all designed to provide shops with a tool to benchmark their business against.”
The TMC/Fullbay report is available for free download.